One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Power, Privilege and Sexual Assualt June 13, 2011

Former IMF President (he resigned 5/19) Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of assaulting a hotel maid in Manhattan.   While Strauss-Kahn has portrayed himself as a victim (complaining about his “unfair” treatment after his arrest) to a woman lying to get attention and money, his record around sexual assault is hardly clean.  Since the assault two weeks ago, another woman Tristane Banon has come forward alleging that Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2007 while she attempted to interview him.  She discussed his sexist and disrespectful behavior towards women in the past.  The incident of alleged assault with this New York hotel service worker was not an isolated incident but rather a manifestation of the power and privilege afforded to Strauss-Kahn because of his position in the international community.  The women Strauss-Kahn harassed were inferior to him whether in employment positions or in class or race status.  His assumption that he could have sexual relations with this maid in Manhattan because of her social and class location relative to him is both disturbing and unfair. 

Ms. Magazine wrote had interesting commentary about men in power and their assumptions regarding consent. Author Michael Kimmel discusses both the New York Times and Time Magazine article’s theorizing why powerful men cheat and linking the phenomena of power with perceived consent and willingness of women to engage in sexual activity with men in high profile positions.  Kimmel references the gang rape of a young woman by football recruits at the University of Colorado in 2001.  While the athletes perceived that a majority of women wanted to have sex with them, in reality it was about one percent of women who were actually interested, their celebrity status so distorted their vision that they misconceived the sexual interest of women they encountered  Kimmel states: “This distorted perception goes to the heart of the Strauss-Kahn case. Because of his status, he may well have encountered women who let their availability be known. Just as obviously, he needn’t have acted on it. Being human, men are capable of making choices about when and with whom to unzip their trousers.”    The Strauss-Kahn case illustrates the entitlement that powerful men often feel that they deserve or have access to women because of their status.  While the woman Strauss-Kahn assaulted felt violated and clearly did not agree to any kind of sexual activity with him, it’s possible he perceived it as consensual because of his inflated sense of self worth.  Regardless of what Strauss-Kahn perceived that does not excuse his actions or justify his assault of that woman.

Tiffany Williams, Advocacy Director of the “Break the Chain” campaign, a project of the institute of policy studies in Washington DC focusing on providing social services to domestic workers who are victims of human trafficking or worker exploitation discusses how women in lower status jobs are often exploited by their bosses or clients in higher status positions.  She states  “Women who are household workers or “servants” are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal to their employers.”  The story of men in privileged, powerful positions like Strauss-Kahn’s taking advantage of women in lower-status occupations is not new news.  Frankly, neither is the victim blaming response that always tends to surface in the media frenzy. (Recall Lara Logan).  This is a tired, perpetually insulting story that women set men up and then “cry rape” to get money from them or being more concerned about how assailants like Strauss-Kahn will “put their lives back together” rather than how victims will heal with and cope from the trauma of assault.

Every victim of abuse of any kind deserves to be supported and believed.  If you or someone you know is feeling unsafe or have been hurt call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak with a trained advocate.  Abuse is never a victims fault and they deserve compassion and to be believed.

 

How does domestic violence affect children? May 23, 2011

The mass media constantly bombards us with stories such as that of a 4-year old girl found beaten and tortured in Smithfield NC; or Marchella Pierce ; starved and drugged by her own mother? What about all of the children that do not make headline news? What about the children who continue living in a home where  domestic violence exists?  Recent articles published by the Joyful Heart Foundation illustrate the affects that just witnessing inter-personal violence has on children.

According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, children who are chronically exposed to domestic violence can develop many significant long term effects. The scale ranges from academic and behavioral problems in adolescence all the way to having changes in their brain physiology and function. When children live in a hostile environment, they create strategies and behavioral patterns that will allow them to avoid the violence.

Often children will go to extreme measures in order to please the violent parent. One 8-year-old girl wrote about trying to be nice, staying out of trouble, and getting home early so she could stay out of her father’s way.  Other children will attempt to side with the abusive parent in the hope of not being the next target. While even more children resort to creating their own world inside of their head in order to escape reality.

While these children find temporary safety in their routines and patterns, the long term affects of these practices are highly detrimental. These patterns become ingrained as habits. Spacing out in school can lead to poor performance, and being in a state of constant anxiety can lead to serious mental problems such as post traumatic stress disorder. Also, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, when children are constantly in a state of emotional turmoil, reaching developmental milestones such as differentiation from one’s parents, very difficult and painful.

According to a recent op-ed featured in The New York Times, the annual cost of childhood maltreatment is $103.8 billion. Currently only about $40 million has been invested in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.  This organization has treated over 300,000 children in the time span of just seven years.

Many domestic violence programs offer a limited number of services geared towards children. At the Family Violence Prevention Center, we do not take individual children as clients, but we do have a coping skills group for children as well as community education programming in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. Let’s help ensure that National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a strong future, helping to ensure that traumatized children have a place to get help. For more information please visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.

 

“Jealousy” Not An Excuse for Abuse May 16, 2011

LaToya Smith had broken up with Tyrone Hester less than a month before he shot and killed their baby daughter and then himself.  Before this tragic incident occurred, Smith’s brother in law , Qu’ran Magwood said that Hester was prone to jealousy, possessiveness and control.  Smith frequently covered up bruises on her body and Hester did not allow her to go places without him.  Smith ended the relationship last month and tried to reach a custody agreement with Hester conflict escalated when he found out she was dating another man.

What is most disturbing about the coverage from The News & Observer is the statement by Smith’s brother in law at the end of the article.  Despite the fact that Hester acted in incredibly abusive ways through he and Smith’s four year relationship, Magwood stated: “Ty wasn’t a bad dude.  He was a dude who was just madly in love and couldn’t accept no…They were young and in love. They tried. It just didn’t work out.  And one took the worlds ‘love you to death’ too far.”  This sentiment is something we see often when people discuss domestic violence.  Obsession, control and manipulation of others is framed as love and devotion.  This obscures the reality that abusers make a deliberate choice to abuse.

Love and abuse cannot peacefully co-exist.  Hester’s actions of physical abuse, control, isolation and and jealousy are all quintessential signs of an abusive and dangerous relationship.  Part of being in a healthy relationship is always having the opportunity to leave it without guilt or fear; Smith did not have that opportunity.  Labeling Hester’s actions as “love” detracts from the purposeful intent of his behaviors and the damaging and painful loss that Smith now experiences in losing her daughter.  It also implies that Smith could or should have done something different to end the outcome of this situation and that if she had just acquiesced to Hester’s demands her daughter might still be alive.  Blaming the victim, even inadvertently, is never okay.

If you’re worried about yourself or a loved one in an abusive relationship, call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak to a trained advocate.  Love and abuse are never synonymous. 

 

Thinking Beyond Self-Defense Classes March 31, 2011

Journalist Mac McClelland recently wrote a piece describing her time at a self defense seminar on protecting yourself from unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault.  McClelland observed the women in her class simulating attack scenarios and learning to combat potential assailants.  She writes, “according to some studies, a woman who fights back against sexual assault has a much higher chance of not getting raped.  The folks at Impact Bay Area, who run this course, and other experts say that forceful engagement can be applied to many situations with a potential enemy.”

While self defense classes that teach women to fight back against assaults can be empowering, they often send the mixed message that victims who do not fight back are doing something wrong.   The “fighting back” mentality also perpetuates the “stranger danger” myth i.e. that women should be prepared for an attacker to jump out at them from the bushes in the dead of night, instead of preparing themselves for the more likely   reality that they will know their abuser.  73% of sexual assault victims know their attacker. The notion that victims should fight back also excludes individuals with physical or mental disabilities who may be physically unable to retaliate against an assailant.

Additionally, while there is nothing wrong with taking self defense classes to feel safer, teaching women how to “fight back” does nothing to challenge a culture that condones sexual assault.   Our culture glorifies and sexualizes violence against women as evidenced by exceedingly violent “gonzo” porn“, the objectification of women in Playboy and Hustler magazines, and that proliferation of strip clubs and sex work industry.  We also see men encouraged to stay within the “man box” where violence, emotional restriction and commodification and objectifying of women are lauded as the characteristics of real men.

Perhaps instead of encouraging *women* (and what about the men and boys who are assaulted?) to just take self defense classes, we should all work harder to be active bystanders. Since most sexual assaults (73%) occur between individuals who know each other we need to be more prepared to handle these situations than a “stranger danger” attack.  If you’re at a party with friends, make plans before you go out to ensure nobody is leaving the party without informing their friends of doing so.  Walk people who’ve had too much to drink home.   If you’re already in a relationship, be aware of what some of the warning signs of abusive partners are including wanting to control you, isolating you, or speaking disrespectfully you or family and friends (click here for a more comprehensive list of relationship red flags).

While these action steps can play an important for lowering the risk of sexual assault it is important to remember that no one deserves to be violated or hurt and abuse of any kind is never a victim’s fault.  If you or a friend have been a victim of violence call our hotline at 919-929-7122 to speak with a trained advocate.

 

What Lara Logan’s Sexual Assault tells us about Victim Blaming Culture February 21, 2011

On February 11th, CBS reporter Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and beaten in the Tahrir Square mob.  She was rescued by a group of women and Egyptian soldiers and flown home the next day to recover.  Instead of focusing on rape culture or the damaging physical and psychological consequences of sexual assault, most media outlets chose to blame Logan for her attack.  While Salon had an insightful blog post describing the blatant victim blaming and ignorance of rape culture prevalent in most news coverage of the assault and commented on the coverage of other news sources [like LA Weekly that wrote a blogpost entitled "Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and Warzone 'It Girl', Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration" where writer Simone Wilson discusses Logan's looks and "ballsy" personality before even describing the attack itself] few other news outlets have been as fair, choosing the tired path (tired for those of us who work in this field) of blaming the victim for their assault.

News sources like The New York Post opted to chronicle Logan’s active sex life, a topic which always seems to emerge, despite its irrelevancy, when an attractive woman is assaulted.  And other commentators like fellow journalist [a journalist who has covered the Iraq War, where one would imagine, he has been in his share of dangerous situations when his own physical safety had been threatened] Nir Rosen a former fellow at NYU’s Center for Law and Security maintain that women often use sexual assault as a way to get attention or sympathy or to escape the consequences of their actions.  Rosen Tweeted: “It’s always wrong, that’s obvious, but I’m rolling my eyes at the attention she’ll get”.  Despite a later apology, Rosen’s actions (whether intentional or not) perpetuated the idea that reporting sexual assault is a tactic women use to seek attention, rather than a mechanism for healing from a trauma and taking back control in a situation where all power and control has been stripped from them.  And, in yet another offensive manifestation of this story, Debbie Shlussel, a conservative political commentator and radio talk show host stated (after her comments about the assault occurring in a “country of savages”) “[T]oo bad Lara.  No one told her to go there. She knew the risks.  And she should have known what Islam is about. Now she knows…How fitting that Lara Logan was ‘liberated’ by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the ‘liberation.”‘

The underlying message of statements from Schlussel, Rosen and others is that Logan had this assault coming [Schlussel's is additionally troubling given its blatant xenophobic and racist nature].   Few people told Anderson Cooper that he should have known what he was in for after his assault in Egypt in early February for for doing his job of reporting the news.  If anything, the public viewed him in a light of admiration for being willing to sacrifice so much for a cause he believed in reporting on. No matter what Logan’s occupation or political beliefs, she has a right to safety and respect for her body, just as Cooper has, even if they both have chosen careers that have the potential to put themselves into situations which are life threatening. After that right was violated, it is hardly appropriate to blame Logan career and political affiliations for the assault.

It was incredibly brave of Logan to bring her story to the public eye, however not every survivor feels comfortable doing so  because of the unfair and unacceptable stigma surrounding sexual assault and relationship violence.  If you are a survivor and want your story to be told, consider submitting it to Project Dinah’s “Speak Out!” blog anonymously.

 

 

 

Speak Out Blog: New Tool to Help Victim’s Share Their Stories Safely, and Anonymously February 16, 2011

The Speak Out Blog is new collaborative initiative that allows women to speak out anonymously about their experiences with interpersonal violence, in the hopes of raising awareness of the issue and helping victims understand that they are not alone in their struggles.

Interpersonal violence is a pervasive problem and a commonly socially stigmatized issue.  Often times, victims feel powerless to seek help, or feel that even if they did, that they would not be believed.

In situations like these, hearing the stories of actual survivors of domestic violence and relationship abuse can help.  These stories, especially those told from the victims perspective and in their own words, can become powerful tools in helping spread the word about interpersonal violence, and can not only help increase community awareness of the issues, but also help victims who find themselves in these situations realize that they are not alone, that their circumstances are not to be tolerated, and that if they do choose to seek help, the will be heard and believed.

If you or someone you know has experienced some form of violence (stalking, relationship abuse, sexual assault, hate crimes, etc), you are not alone and your story is real and powerful.  Break the silence surrounding violence by sharing your story anonymously on the following blog: http://www.speakoutunc.blogspot.com/. Be empowered to grieve and heal.

Testimonials shared on the blog will be read anonymously at Project Dinah‘s annual Speak Out Against Interpersonal Violence on April 14th. Co-sponsored by Men @ Carolina, W.E.L.L (Women Experiencing Learning & Leadership) and the IPV prevention department of Counseling and Wellness.

 

Flirting with Controversy: Victim Blaming in Reporting on WikiLeaks Founder’s arrest December 15, 2010

Filed under: rape,sexual assault,Victim Blaming — Johnson Intern @ 5:07 pm
Tags: , ,

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is arrested amid allegations of rape and sexual assault. But from a DV perspective, the real story may be how media outlets try to spin it.

On Nov. 18th, the New York Times ran a story in which Swedish prosecutors stated they had approved a request for a warrant to be issued in the EU and with Interpol for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, on sexual offenses.  But even before all the facts of the case were in, several news media outlets began a barrage of back-and-forth commentary, most of which presumed Assange’s innocence and vilified the alleged victims as part of an elaborate plot to discredit the WikiLeaks founder as a result of unrelated leakages that were embarrassing to the US.  This story is just the latest example of  presumptions of innocence on the part of famous male suspects, and follows a trend that presumes that the  victim is at fault, as long as the alleged offender is deemed sufficiently famous by mass media.

With respect to the Assange scandal in particular, the difference in reporting is stark.  The following is an  excerpt from a Slate.com article, entitled “Assange’s Interpol Warrant Is for Having Sex Without a Condom”:

“When Interpol issued an arrest warrant earlier this week for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the international police agency charged him with ‘sex crimes’ but didn’t specify the offense any further, prompting rumors that he had been accused of rape. He hadn’t. “It turns out,” Washington’s Blog reports, that “it was for violating an obscure Swedish law against having sex without a condom.” During a business trip to Stockholm last August, Assange had unprotected sex with two women [...] who upon realizing that they had both slept with him—and that he had blown them both off—jointly approached police about his refusal to take an STD test.” [...] While theconsent of both women to sex with Assange has been confirmed by prosecutors,” as a former attorney wrote in an impassioned op-ed, Assange has been charged with something called “sex by surprise.”

(Boldface and italics were included in the original article)

This, however, is how The New York Times (which has actually received thousands of leaked documents from Wikileaks in the past) chose to report the incident, under the title “Sweden Issues Warrant for WikiLeaks Founder:

“The Swedish prosecutor’s office said Thursday that a court in Stockholm had approved its request for arrest warrants to be issued for Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks Web site, for questioning on charges of rape and other sexual offenses. Mr. Assange has strongly denied the accusations. [...] According to accounts the women gave to the police and friends, they each had consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange that became non-consensual. One woman said that Mr. Assange had ignored her appeals to stop after a condom broke. The other woman said that she and Mr. Assange had begun a sexual encounter using a condom, but that Mr. Assange did not comply with her appeals to stop when it was no longer in use. Mr. Assange has questioned the veracity of those accounts.”

Following his arrest in the UK, other details eventually came to light in the case, including how Assange allegedly used his body weight to “hold [one victim] down in a sexual manner”, “deliberately molested [the same victim] in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity,” and that he “[had] sex with a second woman, without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home” (UK Press Association). While Assange has yet to be formally charged with any wrong-doing (as of Dec. 12), the above stories are significant in the drastically different approaches they each take to addressing the charges and issues of rape.

On the one hand, the New York Times article gives equal weight to both Assange’s attorney, and the Swedish prosecutor in the case.  However, Slate’s article makes no mention of the actual complaints or allegations filed against Assange, nor even any comments by Swedish authorities, instead making liberal use of direct quotes from Assange’s attorneys and unattributed sources.  At one point, the article even cites an “impassioned op-ed” that describes Assange as being prosecuted for the fictitious charge of “sex by surprise”; a term that, in reality, is not a legal designation, but rather Swedish slang term for rape, used to imply that a victim was secretly “asking for it” or “changed her mind” after the fact.

The Slate.com article is a chilling reminder of how prevalent victim-blaming behavior is, both in the popular mindset, and in the media. While details about the incident remain admittedly scant, the authors of the Slate magazine article made no attempt to hide their assumptions about the case, nor even their ridicule and disdain for the victim of the alleged crime.  That is to say, rather than report on what happened, they immediately assumed (with no real evidence to support that assumption) that the crimes were falsely reported, and motivated by vindictiveness or political motivations.  This gets to the heart of one of the biggest, and most dangerous, fallacies and myths surrounding rape and sexual assault: namely, that it’s usually just a “vindictive move” by a “woman scorned.”

But the fact of the matter is that victim-blaming is not just a case misplacing responsibility, but an actively harmful force that allows crimes to go unpunished, and allows criminals to go free. It is dangerous, because it promotes permissive attitudes towards rape and promulgates incorrect assumptions that make many victims reluctant to come forward, for fear of judgment, harassment, humiliation, and disbelief.  This means that of the many sexual offenses that occur, only a fraction of these are ever reported, allowing the perpetrators of these crimes to go free, without prosecution.  Ultimately, this means that sexual crimes are among the most UNDER-reported crimes, not the most FALSELY reported ones.

If this is the first you’ve heard about the case, rather than assume Assange is guilty or innocent, think about what it would mean if Assange were NOT the founder of the controversial WikiLeaks site?  What if he was just another man, with no fame or fortune to his name?  Would news outlets be so quick to come to his aid, and if not, why should his fame make him any less suspicious?

If this ISN’T the first time you’ve heard of the case, ask yourself what your initial reaction was, and honestly think about why it is you reacted that way.  Specifically, if you assumed anything about Assange’s guilt or innocence, on what basis did you make that assumption–and would that assumption have been the same if he were just an unnamed suspect in a media bulletin?

To learn more about the reality of sexual violence and sexual assault, and how you can help, visit the Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s website at www.ocrcc.org, or go to FVPC’s website at www.fvpcoc.org to learn how you can become involved in ending sexual assault and domestic violence, and how you can raise awareness about SV and DV-related issues.

 

Victim Blaming to Protect the Powerful December 8, 2010

Filed under: Allies,rape,sexual assault,Victim Blaming — Elizabeth Johnson @ 3:00 pm
Tags: ,

Internet commentary about the suicide of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg after an alleged sexual assault from a Notre Dame football player has taken on a number of different viewpoints on where the blame for her death should lie.  While most express condolences for Lizzy Seeberg’s death many maintain that the Notre Damn football player in question for the assault should have no penalties to his athletic career until the charges are formally filed.   Attorney Roger Canaff wrote an eloquent letter expressing his condolences for Lizzy’s death while simultaneously applauding her courage to report her sexual assault.  Canaff states, “I don’t understand why the man you reported against has played an entire season of football.  While it’s true that he is and should be considered innocent until proven guilty, his privilege to play football is not in any way related to his legal rights as a citizen.”

What is disturbing about the young man accused being able to play an entire season of football is that it appears to send a message, whether intentional or not, that the reputation of college athletic programs is more important than reporting incidents of sexual assault or violence.  Many of the comments on various news and editorial postings about Lizzy Seeberg state “Remember Duke Lacrosse” (an incident in 2007 where three Duke Lacrosse players were falsely accused of sexual assault from a stripper they had hired for a party) as if one false accusation of sexual assault is enough to make up for the 25% of women who will be beaten or raped in their lifetimes Victim blaming comments perpetuate a system that normalizes violence against women and takes credit away from the very real pain many victims of interpersonal violence experience. To advocate for the accused young man to continue to play football despite allegations of rape against him, while simultaneously maintaining that one does not condone violence against women is both contradictory and naive.

Roger Canaff commends Lizzy for her courage to speak out against her assault and how it is the fault of a system of normalized violence against women, not her own actions, that led to a delay in the investigation of her rapist. Canaff serves as an excellent example of an active bystander speaking out against the sexual assault of Lizzy Seeberg.  Allies like Mr. Canaff serve an important role in making interpersonal violence prevention and intervention pertinent to all people, not just women.

Victims of any kind of abuse deserve to be believed.  At FVPC we advocate for and believe survivors.  If you are feeling scared or hurt in a relationship call our hotline at 919-929-7122 or come into our office to talk with an advocate.

Update & Note 12.9: The comment below draws attention to the fact that our language in the original post was unclear.  We didn’t mean that 1 in 4 women will be raped in their lifetime but rather than 1 in 4 will be raped or physically assaulted.  This “1 in 4″ statistic is where the name of this blog comes from since domestic violence covers a broad range of abuse, including sexual assault. But we have corrected the confusing language and hyper-linked that statistic for those who want more details.

 

 
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